Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Macro Features of War Films

Macro Features of War Films

These are just ideas to start us off. By doing your own research you will discover more of them.

Remember that you need to establish the main storyline(s) of the film first and then you can establish how the director includes or leaves out narrative conventions that you might expect to see in a war film. You can then also notice how directors change, subvert, leave out or add to the conventions. Don’t forget that intertextuality – how films sometimes include references to images, scenes, speeches and characters from other films, is another aspect of the genre.

YOU will discover others as you analyse aspects of the films’ genre, narrative and iconography.
Consider how war films can break into sub genres for different wars and for various aspects of the armed services. For instance: spying missions, the war at sea, films that focus on aircraft, comic war films,

Focus on repeated conventions
An unseen enemy (makes them frightening and inhuman), a diverse group of men with a leader with distinctive qualities, the absence of women, narratives non linear (flash back), the last stand, etc. (Spidergram them!) locations and their symbolic signifcance (mountains represent freedom, use of uniforms, etc.)

Think about the representation (how race, age, sex and class) is shown is important for the Macro understanding of films.

Think about how different types of characters are portrayed in war films. For instance, in Platoon, there is a racist sergeant, a Jewish man, the leader as a man of principle, a weakling who survives, the token black soldier, etc. (These are often presented as a formula)
Ideology (that is the values and beliefs that are conscious and unconscious in these films)

What position do the films take with war – are they for or against. Do they advocate sacrifice and glory or do they focus on wasted lives and how war affects people’s lives?

In Marxist critical discourse ideology is often perceived to be providing cover for some deeper-seated reality only barely visible beneath ideology’s cloak (see Eagleton 1991: 10–26). For example, the explicit propagandist designs that governed the cultural imagination of war during World War I insisted that war be understood in relation to a chivalric code of honour,a Christian rhetoric of sacrifice and a powerful discourse of nationalism.”
War in Cinema, An Introduction

What is the relationship with the military? Did they help with the production of the film? Did they approve or disapprove of it?

How do British War films differ from American ones?
What types of narratives does each country like to produce? And how do they represent them? (Think also here about poster, advertising, trailers, etc. DVDs have a wealth of material for further research on this – if this is what you want to write your macro essay on.)

Think also about how micro elements such as mise-en-scene is repeatedly represented in similar or different forms. For instance the Swiss mountains featured in the “The Great Escape” (1963) carry a different symbolic significance from Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” in which many Japanese soldiers lived and died and were ultimately entombed in Mount Suribachi.

Read the article on War Films on at the British Film Institute’s Screenonline.

Link to Screenonline

It’s great for understanding how British War Films focused on different things the decades during and after WWII.

Several examples of narrative conventions
The primary characteristics now associated with the combat-film genre derive from the film Bataan, released in June 1943, a little more than a year after the peninsula fell to the Japanese. Its reviews were uniformly excellent and its box office was solid. The historical model for the film's characters and action was the 1934 Ford film, The Lost Patrol, written by Dudley Nichols. Bataan tells the story of a group of hastily assembled volunteers who, through their bravery and tenacity, hold off an overwhelmingly large group of the enemy long enough to buy much-needed time for American forces. Because all die at the end, it is an example of "the last stand" celebration of American bravery, the most familiar mythic example of which is the story of the Alamo.

From another source

“Many World War II combat films contain the story elements found in Bataan: a group that is a democratic ethnic and religious mixture; a hero who is part of the group, but who is forced to separate himself in order to be a good leader; a specific objective to be met; a specific enemy; and recognized military equipment and costume. The basic narrative conventions of hero, group, and objective of the World War II combat genre can be traced from films released from the 1940s onward, decade by decade. In the 1950s such films as Halls of Montezuma (1950), Battle Cry (1955), and Men in War (1957) continued the tradition. Even though Halls of Montezuma and Battle Cry are set in World War II and Men in War in Korea, all three retain the basic story in which a diverse group of soldiers are on patrol under stern leadership, seeking to achieve their objective while fighting a difficult enemy. Similar films from the 1960s include Marines, Let's Go (1961), Merrill's Marauders (1962), Up from the Beach (1965), and the Vietnam-based The Green Berets. The 1970s brought Kelly's Heroes (1970) and The Boys in Company C; the 1980s The Big Red One and Heartbreak Ridge; and the 1990s A Midnight Clear (1992) and Saving Private Ryan, which, although it was hailed as a "new" and "different" World War II combat film, followed the generic convention in many ways. The visual presentation is more graphic and realistic, but the narrative is the familiar story of a tough hero (Tom Hanks) who has to separate himself from his men in order to be an effective leader. His group is diverse, including an Italian, a Jew, a cynic from Brooklyn, and a mountain sharpshooter. Their difficult objective is to rescue a single soldier, the only brother of four not yet killed in combat, as a symbolic mission. The new millennium has continued to bring war films based on the original format, such as Windtalkers and We Were Soldiers (both 2002) and Tears of the Sun (2003)."

"Once the conventions of the combat film were set, they were used for many wars, such as Korea (Men in War), Vietnam (The Green Berets, The Boys in Company C), Grenada (Heartbreak Ridge), an imaginary future war on American soil (Red Dawn), the Persian Gulf (Three Kings), and Somalia (Black Hawk Down). Although the purpose of the combat film is not the same in 1998 as in 1943, its conventions still serve a purpose. Each of the postwar combat films reflects the decade in which it was released. Saving Private Ryan, for example, modernized the genre with new technology and increased violence, and put the older elements together to challenge movie-goers to think about the increased use of violence as well as to consider seriously the sacrifices combat soldiers made for Americans during World War II.”

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